Finally, the best baseball game of the generation has arrived. The attention to detail is what easily sets The Show apart from its competition.
If there’s one genre of sports fans who have taken it on the chin worse than any other fans thus far this generation it is easily baseball game fans (myself included). From 2K6 on every offering has been just down right unplayable where it counts, on the field. Although far from perfect, MLB 08 The Show is the first baseball game of the generation on any platform I can recommend is worth the purchase.
From the moment the game loads you are immersed into a true MLB experience. The presentation in this game is superb. From the opening of the game you will be treated to a mix of music tracks and radio calls from some of the most memorable moments of the past few years in the game. Menu navigation takes a bit of getting used to and it’s not anything that will distract from the experience. There are an absolute plethora of options to fiddle with prior to the first pitch in the game. The in game presentation when the mode is turned on (It adds some time to overall game length but is a real treat) is the closest any game has ever come to putting on a realistic televised baseball experience. The camera work, the commentators, and the feel of the stadiums are all marvelously done. There’s nothing more satisfying than having the cut scene roll of bases juiced at home with Big Daddy Vlady coming up the plate in typical form because you drop the pain on your opponents. Not only that, but even the same genre of music he walks up to the plate with at Anaheim is in the game. My only complaint (which is reaching) would be for a game that goes so deep, it would be nice next year to see each ballpark’s specific home run celebration added in.
Forget that this game has a very well selected soundtrack of songs and radio replays from huge moments of seasons past during menu screens. Where I was really impressed by The Show was the commentator team of Matt Vasgersian, Rex Hudler, and Dave Campbell. Vasgersian brings a new style to play by play that is a breath of fresh air from that of tenured broadcasters such as Jon Miller and Joe Morgan. Add to the play by play the goof ball commentary of Rex “The Wonder Dog” Hudler and Dave Campbell’s baseball insight and it’s the perfect trio to be calling the shots of your next game. A lot of games get real credible talent to call games and while it’s cool to hear a familiar voice the interaction never seems smooth. Off beat comments that make no sense or a discussion out of nowhere that really has nothing to do with the game you’re playing always has been a sore spot especially in baseball games. In The Show I rarely if ever felt that happen. Not only that, but I laughed at myself when I heard “Get the bat off your shoulder amigo” when laying off a strike 2 pitch from Hudler there was something special about this group. Vasgersian will also add a bit of opinion into his play by play as well which is most evident on balls and strikes when he agrees or disagrees with the call.
On the field The Show does a good job as well in the sound department. The crowd sounds lively and does get into the game when it’s close and properly shuts up when it’s not. When your star player comes to beat in the opposing team’s yard you’ll get showered by a few different chants such as “Ov-er-ra-ted!”. The sound of the pitch coming out of your pitcher’s hand to the catcher makes just the right amount of buzzing noise depending on the speed. Hit sounds are different based on the hit and when you crack your bat anyone who follows baseball will immediately recognize the sound. Umpires also do a good job of terribly pronouncing the word ball and strike by various grunts. Overall, The Show is very solid in this department.
Some Playstation 3 fans may be disappointed but MLB 08 THE SHOW as the game states has been optimized to 720p and not to 1080p. Rest assure however, the visuals in the game are easily the greatest graphics in a sports game I have ever seen. I’ll break it down from a few different angles. First off players. Sports game of the past have used what amounted to cookie cutter players of different colored skin and the same hair do. Thankfully, The Show does away with that. No longer do Johnny Damon and David Ortiz have even remotely the same look. All the stars are easily recognizable. As an example, I spent most of my time with the game playing as the Angels and Guerrero looks bigger, has dreads, has a bigger body type, and a great level of resemblance to the real thing. Jeter and A-Rod look themselves. Just seeing more true to life players adds so much into the game as a player and hooking you in. I know previous games have striven for this technical achievement before but simply put, no other sports game has come this close.
The stadiums and lighting are another point I looked at and said “Wow!”. For example, play a night game and watch as the stadium lights reflect off your helmet. The stadiums themselves are all beautifully rendered. The Metrodome, Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, all look brilliant and true to life with every little quirk down to the correct shade of grass and the Angels logo drawn out on the dirt of the mound. When I played inside Angel stadium and hit a foul ball, I could pinpoint where I usually sit with the camera. It’s the first time I have ever been able to do that. Entire stadium architectures are detailed with all t’s crossed and i’s dotted. How could I have also forgot to mention stadium crowd. What’s more detaching than having a foul ball hit into a static crowd where nothing moves. While the crowd in The Show is still noticeably one pattern of fans the difference is made in that they are dynamic. When a ball is hit to a section of fans, the game accurately has the fans all reach up for the ball like it goes down at your neighborhood yard. This is where the difference in level of detail comes in.
On the field the visual touches are everywhere. MLB The Show makes the smartest use of animations in a sports game bar none. Very rarely do the animations seem unrealistic or unnatural. Down to specific players on the field the animations look straight on. Throwing animations even appear customized for some players. Turning a double play has never looked so good or situational. It used to be a double play to the second basemen never resulted in a flip but always a throw. In the Show the back hand flip from 2nd, the quick toss from short, followed by the whip turn to complete 4-6-3 or 6-4-3 are fantastic. Fly ball animations and animations at first also look fantastic. No miracle stretch armstrong grabs is a ball is throw to high. The first basemen will leave his feet to catch the ball causing a runner to be called safe. On fly balls in the outfield, outfielders can grab a running head start for the close play at the plate and all looks as natural and fluid as it does at the park or on TV. I can write 10,000 words on all I’ve seen from the animations such as bare-handed plays, diving ground ball stops, throws from the knees, digs in all direction of first…you get the point. I can’t finish off the visuals section without mentioning that dirt actually flies and when a bat breaks you actually see the bat head fly off into the deep infield. An overall first impression “Wow!” striking set of visuals with a lot of minute details accounted for. This is what next-gen visuals on the most powerful console is supposed to be about it.
In the department where games live and die The Show does very well but is far from perfect. Pitching is extremely straight forward. You choose your pitch with the face buttons and a select a location with the left stick. Then hold down X to get a meter going that uses the two click mechanic to choose pitch accuracy and power. A defined zone appears in the meter which controls accuracy. Miss it, and your pitch will be off target and maybe over the heart of the plate prime for destruction. You can also hold runners and throw to first by hitting O instead of X when you are ready to throw your pitch. You may also call for an intentional pass or a pitch out by holding down a shoulder and face button together. For sim junkies, the mechanic works very well and is a realistic representation of pitcher accuracy as opposed to being able to hit the corners at every turn. I am not a fan of however of having a pitch and location suggested to me at all times. Thankfully, it can be turned off in the option menu.
Running the base paths is also a simple mechanic that has a bit of a learning curve. You can tap the left stick in the direction of the runner you want to select then hit the corresponding face button for the base you want them to advance to. You can also send all runners back or forward by hitting R1 or L1. While the mechanic does work sometimes when you are really trying to maneuver your runners into the doing the right thing in the frenzy errors occur and rallies are killed. You may experience this on occasion especially early into your play time but it will get better as time goes on and can’t really be held against the game. Plus in the options you are free offline to change the settings to however you please.
Fielding is also straight forward to run toward the ball and hit the cut off or the appropriate face button to send the ball to the right base. However, the AI leaves something to be desired. The automatic assignment of fielder once a ball is hit in both the in and out fields sometimes is incorrect and in the shuffle to get choose the right player the ball scoots by in the shuffle. Animations sometimes get in the way of turning plays that should have otherwise been made, especially on double plays. Depending on the player, very routine plays will be botched during a game. I know some players are prone to making errors but it happens to some guys at the rate of once a game which is far from realistic. For the baseball strategist in me, it’s disappointing to find no quick defensive set. The AI sometimes makes very questionable defensive set calls and the game requires a pause and a selection from a menu to set up your D.
The most frustrating portion of the The Show however is easily batting. Prior to a pitch you can pull the R2 button and guess a pitch type and location, If you guess both right, the borders of the strike zone and region will flash red indicating the correct guesses. If only one of the two is guessed correctly the proper region will be highlighted. You can also choose to swing for contact with X or power with square. It’s not that making contact is difficult but making the type of contact you really intended to make seems difficult to achieve. There sometimes appears to be no rhyme or reason why a ball went the way did. The power button is mostly rendered useless and at the risk of hitting a home run you run the risk of making an out which I know is true to life. However, when I highlight the correct portion of the plate, correct pitch type, and have perfect timing using the power swing and it still results in a harmless ground ball it becomes frustrating. The contact swing also can result in a home run which happens enough to make me question why the power swing was put in to the game. The way this guess mechanic interacts with the pitcher as well leaves me feeling something is missing. If everything for example is guessed correctly on the outside corner and the pitcher completely misses his target on the pitch, everything still flashes and while you might think you’re about to get a hit you miss. I was a huge fan of the MLB 2K5 mechanic of if the pitcher misses his throw meter badly enough it will reveal to you where the ball is coming. I realize a sim is what we’re looking to play but some concessions must be made to fit a video game model and I hope in next year’s show these fixes are made. This batting mechanic really screws things up in another way I’ll discuss in the next section.
This game has all that can be desired in terms of modes. Franchise mode, simple season mode, and Road to the Show are all back. The baseball purist in me is enjoying playing a straight up season with my Angels. The Show is good enough offline where I do foresee myself playing through the entire 162 game season without simming which is something I have not done since MLB 2K5. In the Road to the Show you create a player and insert him onto your favorite team and follow his career to the pros. Similar to a game play mode from other sports games however, you will need to choose your position wisely as that is the perspective you’ll be playing from. For example, I made a first basemen and it was skipping from event to event with my first basemen. Some people may really dig the mode, but it’s not for me.
The one aspect I was really looking forward to was the online mode. I am sad to this thus far it has fallen short in a couple of ways. Connecting to someone over sports connect is proving very hit and miss. People who should have perfectly good connections just suddenly die. Quick match thus far has not worked and that will not be counted against the game as that may be a product of the low number of people online with the game. However you can join a lobby room to find an opponent and here’s where the game takes a turn that makes little sense. People in a game are still listed in the lobby with a baseball next to them. It makes little sense for people who joined a lobby looking to play a game to have all the people who were there before still there be included because you can’t invite them to games while they’re involved. It left me scratching my head.
Actual play online was also a bit laggy and this is where the flaws of the pitching and batting mechanic are enhanced ten fold. Because of the game’s precise need for timing in the reproduction of a sim even the slightest lag has very negative effects on the game. Try hitting a 98 MPH fastball with a bit of lag, it doesn’t happen. Also, the guessing mechanic from the game is made even more difficult because even though someone is missing a pitch on his meter completely there is little penalty. At the very least, the outline of the strike zone should be left up during online play and it isn’t. Also be warned, as in all baseball games in the past I think nine out of ten people like to use the Yankees because no matter where you throw to those guys they hit it. Despite these online flaws, I will continue to play offline religiously and will hop on SC once in a while to play a game online.
Radio calls, milestones, and fantastic in game cut scenes. The feeling of real immersion in a baseball game for the first time this generation.
The most entertaining commentary I’ve heard in a very long time. Vasgersian, Hudler, and Campbell go above and beyond in the quality department. The menu soundtrack is refreshingly good. The whisp of a pitch and the crack of the bat on the field are very well done. The ambient sound of your favorite major league park is also captured very well.
The best visuals in a sports game yet this generation. Character models and stadiums are simply sick. The amount of variety and likeness between major league players is fantastic. The details of every ball park in the MLB are extremely well done. You’ll even notice the lighting for the first time in a baseball game. I’m not really sure how much better it can get from this.
Extremely solid pitching mechanics. Fielding AI is a bit spotty and why must I pause to set up my defense? Batting is in need of improvement.
Lasting Appeal: 8.5
A solid handful of modes that will keep you playing this one beyond October. Online however is a bit laggy and can cause some things to happen in game you didn’t intend.
Overall Score: 8.5 – Worth the Retail Purchase